For many years I thought about giving up. Throwing in the towel. Letting go of life itself. And to a certain degree, that’s what I did. Drug addiction, in all its forms, is like a version of suicide via layaway plan; roll the dice everyday wagering your own well-being while you slowly whittle away your physical health, one painful moment at a time. It was an experience that I remember vividly – and one that I think of often.
I keep those experiences in a healthy frame in my headspace; not necessarily at the forefront of all things, but sort of off to the side, as if they were billboards strung up on the side streets or alleys of a city. They aren’t the first thing I see when I step outside and take a walk, but when meandering off in a contemplative way, or in taking a shortcut, they are there for me to see. To remember.
I know we’d all rather forget the BS we’ve been through. The painful recollection of times passed – ways in which we failed ourselves, our families and friends. The times when we didn’t do the right thing. The rough, jagged exterior of those thoughts can feel abrasive when we attempt to bring them up in our headspace. It’s easier to just pass through on the well-lit main boulevard than peek down the dark recesses of the mind. But there are benefits of keeping that stuff around. That reason, for me, is perspective.
When faced with the challenges of living in our modern world; when faced with sadness, depression, anxiety, grief, or a thousand other “negative” forms of emotion we are accustomed to experience – those memories provide me perspective. They allow me to view the issue at hand through the lens of gratitude. Despite how difficult I may feel any given particular problem I experience today may be – typically speaking, it pales in comparison to the travails my shell of a life was once fraught with:
Sleeping outside. Jabbing myself blindly with heroin and meth filled syringes in another desperate attempt at blotting out my existence. Feeling the cold sterile floor of a county holding cell with my hands and feet chained together, the first waves of opioid withdrawal creeping up on me – thinking that despite the circumstances, I still wasn’t going to learn my lesson this time. The loving relationships with family and friends that I neglected for years to continue my pursuit of 24/7 intoxication at all costs. The lost time itself – time that could have been utilized to accomplish so much more; I could go on ad infinitum.
There’s no shortage of those types of memories for me. And if I were to guess, while for some of you, the examples may not be as extreme, you have plenty of pain packed away in there too. It’s a fact of life itself – there is no guarantee that this existence will be easy, beautiful, and stress-free 100% of the time. There will be plenty of hardship and struggle we’ll come up against. By seeking professional help, spiritual guidance, and community-based support, it is in fact entirely possible to learn to transmute those physical, emotional responses to memory into something more.
My point is this; I find it massively beneficial to take a brief stroll down those side streets from time to time. I don’t dwell there per se – I don’t hunker down and set up camp for the night – but I breeze through and let those memories remind me of the person I once was, and the person I am today. Suddenly, those spreadsheets, reports, the homework, sales plans, bad drivers, politicians on their grandstands, annoying HOA members in your driveway taking pictures of the towel you temporarily hung over the fence to dry while washing your car; they don’t seem like all that big of a deal anymore.
This isn’t meant to discount or make light of your painful memories – be they generational, childhood or recent. Often times these things need to be addressed with a professional. But reminding yourself of the person you once were – and the place you stand today – even if it’s on the first foothold of a new adventure – can be a freeing experience. Let God give you some grace – and press on – holding that perspective of life granted through your struggle in your heart, wherever you may go. That short detour down the alley may hold within it the hope, faith, and courage for better days.
You can read, comment and ask questions for Sean to address in his blog on the PAL website, home page – www.Palgroup.org